GOP budget writers eye teaching jobs

Posted March 4, 2011 7:20 p.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2011 7:28 p.m. EST

— Republican lawmakers said Friday that they are considering cutting between 5 to 10 percent of North Carolina’s teaching positions to help meet their spending targets for the 2011 fiscal year.

Last month, the GOP-controlled General Assembly set an $18.3 billion spending target for the 2011 fiscal year – about $1.6 billion less than what Gov. Bev Perdue proposed. More than half of the GOP’s allotted funds would go toward education; the governor said she would protect all state-funded teaching positions.

Acting on their promise of no new taxes, Republicans are looking to cut more than $1 billion from education, including low-performing and ineffective teachers.

“Public schools are going to be squeezed hard,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a former principal and assistant school superintendent. “I know what it takes to run a school system. It takes a lot of money. I also know that when there's dead wood, dead wood has to go.”

Senior budget writer Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said the plan would also reward teachers who are doing their jobs.

“We’re going to offer a carrot along with the stick,” he said. “Somehow, we’re going to offer incentive pay for really good teachers or really good employees.”

Lawmakers, however, are unsure about how to carry out the plan, and that concerns state education leaders who said any evaluation of teacher quality would require an unbiased, research-based system in place before making the decision of who to eliminate.

“Without an equitable way, without a fair way of determining the teachers that are doing well and the teachers that are not doing well, we're in muddy water,” Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said.

Atkinson said that the state does have a system in place but that there is not enough data yet to make those decisions.

She and other educators also don’t think that a supervisor’s opinion or student test scores are an adequate guage of teacher effectiveness since students learn differently and come from different backgrounds that can sometimes pose challenges in the classroom.

“I believe it should be multiple measures over multiple times.” Atkinson said.

One option to evaluate teachers’ job performance, Tillman said, is to seek guidance from the North Carolina Association of Educators, but NCAE President Sheri Strickland says every classroom position, including support staff, is needed.

“We will not help them come up with a system that would eliminate teaching positions,” she said.

Gov. Bev Perdue agrees.

“She’s not about protecting teachers but about protecting teaching positions and putting the best people in those positions,” Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said. “She believes that low-performing teachers should not be tolerated but that they should be replaced by high-quality, high-performing teachers.

Under the Senate plan, those teachers would not be replaced. Instead, lawmakers said, class sizes would increase by about two students.

Joan Celestino, a Forsyth County middle school teacher, said teachers could also have to take on additional classes that cut into time used for planning and professional development.

“It’s hard for many teachers, because we’ve already cut most of our professional development money, and that cuts down on how we can help teachers improve,” she said. “I do know that most teachers are working extremely hard and are trying very hard to do their very best. It is a hard job.”

Still, Tillman said, the state cannot afford to keep low-performing teachers in such a budget crisis.

“I wouldn’t cut a dime, if it were left just up to me and we had tons of money,” he said. “But the real world and the people on the street know we only got this amount of money and they sent us down here to live within our means.”

Still, he said, he remains optimistic about the state’s long-term future.

“We can do some great things once we get out of this (budget) hole, but it’s going to be ugly for two to four years,” he said.